By Phil AOR
First published in ORB206, Yule 2257
Things were pretty normal in the weeks after the accident. Time spent in the hospital had been short lived and rebuilding the damaged bike was first and foremost in Dylan’s mind upon his release. Progress was slow until the insurance cheque came through, but thereafter things moved along quickly. Yet as the last finishing touches were completed, a weight began to impose itself on his shoulders. Depression wasn’t something he usually experienced, except perhaps first thing Monday mornings when the laying of bricks and the shovelling of cement were the last things he wanted to do. But this feeling wasn’t merely the Monday morning blues – there was something else nagging him and it would have to be confronted.
It certainly wasn’t the crash. Dylan had been down the road before, and he took an almost perverse pleasure from restoring damaged machinery to its former glory. His stay in hospital hadn’t exactly been a bundle of laughs, and returning to his one bedroom flat above the dry cleaners didn’t have him dancing a jig, but this wasn’t the source of his new found melancholy state either. So Dylan took his usual route to answers; a Friday night trip down the local, a few pints of ale and a bag of chips on the way home. The pub had been unusually quite, and Dylan hadn’t seen anyone he knew except for the bar staff. He’d sat in an alcove away from people he felt oddly distanced from, and let his thoughts drift. Yet no answers revealed themselves, and by the time he reached his flat late that evening, legs and shoulders aching from a tough day at the site, he was ready for nothing but sleep. And seconds after he’d collapsed, fully clothed onto his bed, sleep had come. And with sleep came the dreams.
Whether Dylan had experienced these dreams regularly, and had merely forgotten them upon waking, or whether this had been the first time they had visited since that evening he’d spent lying on a country road, drifting in and out of consciousness, he couldn’t tell. But one thing was for certain; these were more than dreams. They were more like long forgotten experiences recalled in a moment of fever or hallucination. The sounds of clashing steel, the roar of battle and the feelings of fear and pain. Yet unlike many nightmares where one would wake up once the terror reached its peak, this dream had panned out like some kind of surreal movie, with a beginning, middle and ending. And the ending was crystal clear; soaring like an eagle, away from the carnage below and into the mountains where the air and streams emitted an icy cleanliness which was in exact opposition to the fire, adrenaline and primal emotion which emanated from the battlefield he’d left behind. It began with a journey, then came the thunder, then came the clarity. And then he awoke.
The early morning sun hit Dylan square in the face on that winter’s morning and despite the ale he’d consumed, he felt energised and full of vitality. He stripped, showered and put on clean jeans and a sweater before heading to the kitchen. Tea made the old fashioned way along with rounds of toast and marmalade were first on the agenda, and then Dylan sat and considered his options. Knowledge was the key to understanding, that much was certain. And so, despite not being an avid reader, he decided that the library must be his first point of call. Finishing his tea and toast, Dylan pulled on his worn boots and scuffed leather jacket, picked up his gloves, helmet and rucksack and headed off to the garage he rented from the council.
* * *
A wry smile crossed Dylan’s face as the Triumph started first time. The jet black paint gleamed and the minimal amount of chrome had been lovingly polished to within an inch of its life. Part of his smile reflected the pride in his handiwork, but there was another reason to feel pleased; his insurance cover had paid out accident compensation. Not a huge amount, but enough for him to take a couple of months off work. And those months would not be wasted.
* * *
As winter closed in, Dylan read. The days were taken up by trips to libraries near and far aboard his iron steed, and the evenings were spent sat at the old oak table in his kitchen, surrounded by books. The tea pot was filled time and again, and the gas oven produced both food and warmth. He found the old works the best, but there were more modern texts which spoke to him also. He craved information like a drug, but was moved as much by enlightening, soulful prose as by cold, hard, occasionally shocking fact. And the intellectual journey took him places he’d never have expected. What he saw in microcosm was equally reflected in macrocosm. The universe cried out to him, and nature was revealed in all its fierce and majestic glory. He began to feel a part of all things rather than a spectator, and as the evenings passed by, the occult revealed itself. Indeed, the very word ‘occult’ became a joke. The world around him opened up, and the very notion of the forces of nature being in some way hidden was either a ridiculous oversight by a confused populace or a deliberate attempt to suppress ancient understanding by forces unknown. Most probably it was a combination of both. It was akin to an awakening, and the feelings that rushed through Dylan’s mind were mixed. The future looked somehow more exciting that he ever could have imagined, but his past years seemed shrouded in fog, as if he’d been walking through life with eyes half shut. Dylan had never taken drugs, but had spent more than a few days recovering from hangovers, and this was how he felt now as his mind was cleansed by a fresh understanding of life.
Time flew by, as it generally does when one is immersed in thought and concentration. Festive decorations appeared in the High Street outside the window of his flat, and Dylan watched through misted glass as local officials erected a tree in the centre of the shopping precinct. A tree of life, yet that kind of symbolism went over the heads of both the shoppers and the workmen designated to erecting one of the last obvious links to a past understanding. Yet brutally hacked from the soil where it once grew and covered with plastic trimmings, it was more a perversion than an adequate historical reminder. The tree, branches already wilting in sadness, was a far more heartrending image to the enlightened mind than the Christian image of Jesus on the cross. The glory of nature reduced to an impotent spectacle of the twisted mind. Dylan moved away from the window and shook his head. The information he’d absorbed so far was not to become the catalyst for depression, of that he was determined. Something good must be achieved. Of course, in merely gaining a new understanding of life, Dylan had achieved something, but there was a voice screaming from his unconscious mind that said ‘why stop there?’ It was almost a calling, but he was at a loss to explain things further.
* * *
The reading continued, and the annual festivities came and went. Dylan attended the customary parties and gatherings organised by family and friends, but his thoughts were elsewhere, and when New Year’s Eve rolled around, he decided to stay at home. Gifts of books had been requested, albeit from rather surprised relatives who were used to him asking for motorcycle-related paraphernalia, and therefore he had plenty of reading material to get through before work beckoned once more. On 31st December, a large joint of pork sat roasting in Dylan’s oven along with a variety of vegetables and sliced potatoes, and bottles of locally produced beer rested in the larder awaiting consumption. And just as he savoured the first perfect mouthful of roast meat, the first flakes of snow began to brush against the frosty glass of the kitchen window. Dylan certainly wasn’t a reclusive individual by nature, but as he savoured good food and drink and observed the icy fingers of winter reaching out across the land, he wished to be nowhere else on earth. With alcohol in his veins and food in his stomach, Dylan retired early to bed. He read for a time, then sank into the soft mattress and into a restful and dream-free sleep.
* * *
New Year’s Day broke, and Dylan opened the curtains to reveal a picturesque view. Thick snow blanketed the town as far as the eye could see, and the white beauty was unbroken. No footsteps had touched the virgin snow and the sun rose in a clear blue sky. Dylan was filled with a sense of happiness, as if the awakening he felt in his soul was reflected in the new dawn which he viewed from the window of his flat. He felt like heading off into the countryside, and vowed to do just that as soon as he’d had breakfast. The second he was about to turn away, however, he caught a glimpse of movement from the corner of his eye. Instinctively Dylan withdrew out of sight and watched as an elderly man, with hat pulled down, collar turned up, and stick in hand, shuffled quickly up to the rear of the premises. Just as he neared the building he produced an envelope from his coat pocket, then Dylan lost sight of him. Suddenly three loud knocks sounded from the door, and the man re-appeared, shuffling back the way he had come. Dylan watched him go, then, overcome by curiosity, he went to see what the old man had left.
The envelope was small and light, and had been sealed with wax. Dylan took it into the kitchen, set the kettle to boil, then broke the seal with his finger. He withdrew a small piece of paper, unfolded it and read the brief but intriguing message:
Garth’s Music Shop, Today, 9am.
Dylan couldn’t put two and two together. He’d been to Garth’s before on the odd occasion to purchase strings for his Telecaster, but had never been served by an elderly gentleman; rather a young lad who appeared less than knowledgeable in terms of guitars or indeed music generally. Dylan put the note on the worktop and filled the tea pot. It was much too interesting a prospect to pass up on, of course, and he would certainly be following the instructions he’d been given. He glanced at the clock, and figured out a rudimentary timetable. Breakfast, a shower and a short walk to Garth’s. The trip into the countryside would have to be put on hold for the time being.
* * *
By the time Dylan hit the High Street, it was already teeming with bargain hunters. The sales were already in full swing, and the snow had turned quickly to darkened slush in the consumerist stampede. Dylan pushed through legions of shoppers, worked his way steadily towards Oak Street, then cut down a back alley, past a beauty salon and along the cobbles towards the Lion public house, next door to which stood Garth’s Music Shop. Dylan cupped his hands against the glass and peered inside. The shop was in darkness and he could see no one inside. His heart sank as he considered the possibility that he’d been the subject of a childish prank, but before he left, he gave the door a gentle push. And with a creak, it opened.
He wandered inside, letting the door close behind him. His eyes adjusted slowly to the shadowy interior, and he was careful not to knock into the various instruments on display. “Hello…?” Dylan called. “Is there anybody there?”
Suddenly, the sound from an expertly played piano broke the silence. A gentle, slow paced tune which drew Dylan past the shop counter towards the back room. He rounded the doorway cautiously, and saw the figure of an old man hunched over the piano, fingers gently caressing the keys with a grace that was surprising considering his obvious great age. The tune came to a close as Dylan stood and waited patiently while the last notes drifted softly into silence.
Eventually the old man turned around, his eyes fixing on Dylan’s. “You’ve been reading some interesting books, or so my friend at the library tells me,” he said.
“I’ve been to many libraries,” Dylan replied with a puzzled frown.
The old man chuckled. “I have many friends at many libraries,” he said. “Why don’t you sit down and I can impart more information than you’ll find in any book.”
Dylan shivered involuntarily and moved into the room a little way. The old man hadn’t posed a question, it was more like a pleasantly worded command. He nodded, and although nervous he knew taking a forward step was entirely the right thing to do. “Who are you?” Dylan ventured the question which burned most brightly.
“Someone just like you,” came the reply. “A man who wants the truth. A man who fears the death of his culture and heritage. And a man who is prepared to act as well as think.” The elderly musician paused, then beckoned. “Come, sit down. There’s much to discuss.”
And so Dylan sat down.